was part of the plan. >> lou: we are short on time and we thank you. jim bourn andin wrote "pitun's gamit. ". good night from new york. lass collector. >> [ imitates sword whooshing ] >> he had a love affair with these items. >> that's smart. >> and speaking of love affairs... >> what's this gun? >> this is a sawed-off shotgun that was carried by the barrow gang. >> the barrows? like bonnie and clyde barrow? >> like bonnie and clyde. >> their violent exploits spawned a legend... >> those images of these young outlaws shooting up the highways of america... [ gunshots ] ...somehow touches people. >> ...that may yield a fortune. >> the place is packed. people on the telephones are bidding. there's intense interest in the bonnie and clyde story. >> it was a mind-blower to watch. [ door creaks ] [ wind howls ] [ thunder rumbles ]
[ bird caws ] >> i'm jamie colby, and i'm headed into waco, texas, where i'll meet a man who inherited a massive collection of artifacts and documents and weapons that he says tell the story of the lone star state from the days of the alamo all the way to the legendary and bloody crime sprees of the 1920s and '30s. >> i'm earl davis. my father, robert e. davis, died in march 2003 and left us a vast and eclectic collection. and we were at odds in a dilemma of what to do with these items. >> i meet earl davis at his mother's house, where he keeps his strange inheritance. hi, earl. >> how you doing? are you jamie? >> i'm jamie. great to meet you. >> good to meet you. glad you're here. >> earl tells me his father built a mom-and-pop printing business into a multimillion-dollar operation, successful enough to bankroll his real passion -- texana artifacts. >> well, there's a lot of stuff
in here. >> this is a very nice autographed letter signed by sam houston in 1840, and you can see how nice his... >> beautiful signature. >> ...signature was. >> in the process, the family's home becomes a shrine to texas history -- the alamo, the battle of zacatecas. there's even stuff going back to the spanish conquistadors. >> this is conquistador's helmet, all metal. i don't know how they wore it without a liner, but you can feel it's quite heavy. >> oh, my goodness. >> can you imagine carting that on your head all day long? >> yeah. if you're having a bad hair day, it takes care of it. >> it would take care of your bad hair day. >> [ laughs ] >> no doubt. there's more stuff. come and look. let me show you. >> more than this? >> more than this. we got several rooms. >> there are weapons everywhere. >> this is what i was talking about. >> whoa. you promised guns. you got a lot of guns. >> guns galore. >> what's this gun? >> this is a sawed-off shotgun that was carried by the barrow gang. >> the barrows? like bonnie and clyde barrow? >> like bonnie and clyde. you want to hold a piece of
history? >> whoa. it's heavy. unbelievable. >> earl explains that the barrow gang accidentally left this weapon on the side of the road while changing a tire on their getaway car. dad loved the whole bonnie and clyde story, didn't he? >> loved the story -- as we all do. it still holds up to today. >> and you have to wonder why. they killed a lot of people. >> fascination with the americana and the gangsters. [ up-tempo banjo music plays ] >> 1930 -- bonnie parker, an unemployed waitress, meets clyde barrow in west dallas. she's 19. clyde's a year older and on the run from burglary charges. >> they are these mythical characters who did nothing but cause trouble and pain in their lifetime. it's a young boy and a young girl who went against the system. and by all accounts, it was love at first sight. the only thing that separated them was that police arrested him and hauled him off to jail.
>> bonnie sneaks a revolver into the jail, and clyde makes a run for it, but is recaptured, jailed, and beaten by the guards. he's released in 1932 a hardened criminal. he and bonnie go on a rampage, robbing banks and killing a dozen people. but all along, clyde is consumed by one idea -- revenge against the guards who beat him at eastham prison. >> "let's raid this place. let's turn everybody loose, and i'd like to shoot every damn one of these guards." >> clyde leads the raid in january 1934. >> five convicts are released from prison, and one prison guard is killed. >> state prison chief lee simmons is humiliated. he calls on a retired texas ranger named frank hamer. >> he said, "i told frank hamer, 'put clyde and bonnie on the spot and then shoot everyone in sight.'" those are his own words. [ tires screech ] >> hamer develops an informant
who reveals the duo's location. [ dramatic music plays ] the posse sets up an ambush. clyde appears over a hill, bonnie at his side. [ round chambers ] [ rapid gunfire ] the lawmen open up with a deafening fusillade. bonnie and clyde are dead before they can return a single shot. in the death car, posse members uncover an arsenal. >> the inevitable end. here is bonnie parker and clyde barrow, who died as they lived -- by the gun. >> to augment their meager pay, the officers take the weapons and other personal items. >> frank hamer wound up with all of the weaponry that was recovered in that car. >> it's no surprise to earl that an avid collector like his father would covet these macabre trophies. >> bonnie and clyde -- you can
ask a 3-year-old kid, and they know who bonnie and clyde is. >> through sales, auctions, and trades, robert adds that shotgun from the barrow gang to his houseful of texana artifacts, as well as clyde's pocket watch and bonnie's makeup case. but it's not enough. robert eyes two more objects to cap off his gangster collection. >> a gun, .45, that was in clyde's waistband. another thing was a .38 taped to bonnie's leg. frank hamer wrote a note that bonnie was squatting on this gun. the smaller guns... >> it takes patience, luck, and some quick thinking, but those two weapons will end up in earl's strange inheritance. so -- wow. he obviously got what he wanted. >> yes. he always got what he wanted. [ both laugh ] >> but this time, he almost blows it. up next, mrs. davis's white-knuckle moment. >> let's take it up a notch. >> what'd she pay? [ gunshots ]
>> and now our "strange inheritance" quiz question. what was clyde borrow first arrested for? stealing a case of beer, failing to return a rental car, or stabbing a high-school classmate? the answer in a moment. [ indistinct chatter ] [ intense music playing ] it's here, but it's going by fast. the opportunity of the year is back: the mercedes-benz summer event. get to your dealer today for incredible once-a-season offers, and start firing up those grilles. lease the e300 for $569 a month at your local mercedes-benz dealer. mercedes-benz. the best or nothing.
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barrow was a few days late in returning a rental car. >> you know, clyde was quite a dapper guy, really, when you look at it. >> no way! >> yes. >> this is clyde? >> that's clyde. >> this photo of clyde barrow is part of the huge cache of texas memorabilia that earl davis' father, robert, amassed over several decades. through shrewd purchases and trades, he acquires the barrow gang's shotgun, clyde's watch, and bonnie parker's makeup case. even 80 years after they died in a hail of gunfire, almost anything associated with these notorious criminals is valuable. by far the most valuable are their guns, snatched from the death car by lead bounty hunter frank hamer. >> they were able to take these things as souvenirs. >> i track one of those weapons here, to the texas prison museum in huntsville. >> okay, jamie, let me show you a little artifact. >> jim willett, who runs the
museum, explains that frank hamer gave bonnie's pistol to texas prison chief lee simmons, who had ordered the ambush. >> this is the pistol that bonnie parker had in her lap when they killed bonnie and clyde. >> really? >> mm-hmm. >> how did you get it? >> the family of lee simmons loaned all this stuff to us. >> love to see it. >> sure. let me get that for you. this gun was in her lap with a magazine over it. probably heavier than you think it is. >> so, from bonnie's lap to jamie's hands. it is heavy, and it's beautiful. look at that handle. it's been decades since her death, but still it gives me a shiver to be holding one of the bonnie parker weapons. you better put it back 'cause i would like to take it home. >> i bet you would. >> i really would. >> yeah. >> add it to the collection. i'm starting to see why collectors would want to own pieces of texas history like this. >> you look back at these people who were ruthless, but it's a piece of americana.
you know, my dad always said, "even though history may be bad, history's history." >> in 1986, earl's father, robert, learns that frank hamer's family is about to auction off two spectacular pieces of bonnie and clyde memorabilia -- the ill-fated duo's most personal weapons, a .45 that was in clyde's waistband and a .38 that bonnie had taped to her thigh. he sets his sights on adding them to his treasure trove. >> when the opportunity came up of history, holding a gun that he knew clyde probably used and had on his person -- this is his top joy. >> robert and his wife, maryanne, drive to austin for the sale. >> other texas history buffs -- robert's friends and competitors -- fill the hall. >> it's kind of funny. my dad apparently got up to converse with somebody, go get a drink, and the guns came up for auction. he wasn't in the crowd.
>> robert's golden opportunity is slipping away. maryanne looks around -- no sign of her husband. the hammer's about to go down, so she takes matters into her own hands. >> my mom, knowing my dad wanted them, you know, at whatever price -- she was the one that actually purchased the two guns. [ applause ] >> so, she did the bidding because he was nowhere to be found? >> absolutely, absolutely. and he was very happy that she did that. >> what'd she pay? >> it was under $40,000 for the two guns. >> earl's dad keeps on collecting texas history. but in 2003, beset by health problems and depression, he takes his own life at the age of 69. >> he decided that was it, and like most of us control our life, he controlled his death, if you want to look at it that way. but it was a traumatic event for the family. >> earl takes over his father's role as head of the family's printing business. and it falls on him to decide
what to do with his dad's enormous collection. it turns out to be worth a texas-sized fortune. one estimate -- $4 million. >> wow. dad leave a will? >> he did, and we have a family trust. so, everything basically went into a trust. >> did he give you any specific instructions on what to do? >> the instruction was, "do not dismantle my collection." my mom didn't have the passion that my dad did. you know, i love it, but didn't have the passion he did. >> so earl decides it's time to sell off at least some of his dad's stuff. he figures he'll start with a few alamo documents. he begins working with new hampshire auction company exec bobby livingston, who had dealt with earl's father, but had never seen his entire collection. when livingston comes to texas and steps into the davis home for the first time, his jaw drops. >> i was there to pick up these alamo documents. and we know how much bob davis loved these things.
we really didn't understand how much bob davis collected. >> or the variety of what he collected. >> i looked, and he goes, "well there's bonnie parker's gun." and i'm like, "what?" [ gunshots ] and my eyes lit up. >> that's next on "strange inheritance." >> here's another quiz question for you. though clyde barrow never served in the military, he did tattoo his arm with the insignia of which branch? the navy, the army, or the marines? the answer when we return.
♪ ♪ which is why comcast business delivers consistent network performance and speed across all your locations. fast connections everywhere. that's how you outmaneuver. so new touch screens... and biometrics. in 574 branches. all done by... yesterday. ♪ ♪ banks aren't just undergoing a face lift. they're undergoing a transformation. a data fueled, security driven shift in applications and customer experience. which is why comcast business delivers consistent network performance and speed across all your locations. hello, mr. deets. every branch running like headquarters. that's how you outmaneuver. ♪ >> so, which military insignia did clyde barrow tattoo on his arm? the answer is "a," the navy. he tried to enlist, but the navy found him medically unfit.
>> any more guns? you have a lot of drawers. all ammunition? after his father's death in 2003, earl davis ponders what to do with his strange inheritance, a stockpile of texas memorabilia that includes everything from alamo artifacts to guns owned by bonnie and clyde. what should he sell first? earl settles on some letters from the legendary william b. travis, commander of the alamo garrison. but the moment auction company exec bobby livingston steps into the davis home, he locks on to something else. >> this was bonnie parker's pistol coming right from frank hamer, the bounty hunter that hunted down bonnie and clyde. [ gunshots ] i knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our auction house. we had to get this collection. >> though bonnie and clyde last rampaged through the dusty roads and small towns of the south and midwest 80 years ago, livingston
knows their story still strikes a chord. >> those images of these young outlaws shooting up the highways of america somehow touches people. >> he groups the bonnie and clyde guns with other notorious artifacts and prepares a video to advertise the sale. [ dramatic music plays ] >> the name of the auction is gangsters, outlaws, and lawmen." >> but there's a problem, one that puts livingston's big event in jeopardy. >> the very first gun that earl davis sends us up is the bonnie parker .38 detective special. and we go to look for the serial number, and the serial number has been scratched off. we can't sell the gun because it's felonious just to have it in our offices. >> oh, my gosh. he faces a quandary -- should he call the federal bureau of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms, fess up, and hope they'll make an exception? >> there is a big, big chance, if we tell them we have this gun, they could seize it, melt
it down. it's gone, and there's nothing you can do. one of the biggest challenges we faced to hold this auction was picking up the phone and calling the atf. >> livingston decides to make the call and set up a meeting at their boston office to present his case. >> we showed them the gun. we had the letter from frank hamer saying that he had taken this gun from bonnie parker. and it did have a good case to not be destroyed because of its historical significance. >> the fate of earl davis' strange inheritance... [ gunshots ] ...hangs in the balance. that's next. ♪ [brother] any last words? [boy] karma, danny... ...karma! [vo] progress is seizing the moment. your summer moment awaits you,
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>> now back to "strange inheritance." >> guns, guns, guns. >> may 2013 -- texas businessman earl davis is working with auction company exec bobby livingston to sell off part of his strange inheritance -- >> one of the few that you can directly attribute to bonnie parker. >> two guns found on the bodies
of bonnie and clyde. almost immediately, the plan hits a snag. >> we realized that bonnie's gun -- the serial number had been scratched off. and that being the case, it doesn't hold too well with the atf. >> davis and livingston anxiously await word from federal authorities. will they allow the sale to go through or seize the gun? >> graciously, they decided that this was a historic artifact, it needed to be saved, and they went ahead and reissued a serial number and stamped it on the gun. [ metal clangs ] >> five months later, earl davis's bonnie and clyde collection, including bonnie's .38 and clyde's .45, are the centerpiece of r.r.'s "gangsters, outlaws, and lawmen" auction. >> my wife and i went to new hampshire for the live auction. [ auctioneer calling ] and we had some anxiety and some anticipation. >> we had media come in from
russia, from japan, all over europe. these two young people on the roads of america somehow resonates with the world, and it was incredible. yeah, i was nervous. >> what's happening to your heart as you're watching it all unfold? and what was the actual bidding going back and forth? >> the place is packed. the people on the telephones are bidding. the internet bids are coming on. so the bidding's getting up to $60,000, $70,000, $80,000 $100,000. [ auctioneer calling ] >> at $140,000, the bidding seems to stall. >> your heart's sinking that the bidding's gonna stop. [ auctioneer calling ] ♪ but all of a sudden, the two main bidders -- both on the telephone -- began to bid again. >> $150,000, $200,000. two anonymous phone bidders battle it out. >> it finally hammered at $262,000. it was amazing. [ cash register dings ] >> a record price for a bonnie and clyde gun.
>> it was a mind-blower to watch what we thought wouldn't go for what it did, did. [ applause ] >> there was a lot of cheers, but then we had to sell the next gun. this was clyde barrow's 1911 colt .45. >> again, the top bids come over the phone. >> it got up to $100,000, $150,000, $160,000. >> then past $180,000, $200,000, $220,000. >> and a phone bidder hammered it, and it sold for $240,000. [ cash register dings ] >> it goes to the same anonymous bidder who bought bonnie's gun. back in 1986, earl davis's mother had paid less than $40,000 for the guns. now just two of the many items in the davis family's strange inheritance sell for more than $500,000. >> to watch these two items in a 25-year period increase 1,000% -- that was exciting, very exciting. >> you know who bought the bonnie and clyde guns?
>> i really don't. the person was anonymous. i know he's a texas individual, but i do not know. >> bobby livingston can't reveal the buyer's name, but he does share the surprisingly personal reason the mysterious buyer valued the two weapons so highly. seems that his family had crossed paths with bonnie's. >> he told me, "after bonnie parker passed away, my mother took pity on the parker family and would naturally just bring them food and help them out through this tough time in their lives." i said, "well, why'd you buy the clyde barrow?" and he told me, "well, i felt they should stay together." >> the sale of the bonnie and clyde guns suggests to earl that his father's collection is worth every bit of the $4 million he's been told. he plans to gradually sell off most of it. and so robert davis's 50-year love affair with texas memorabilia certainly has paid
off. still, earl has his regrets. >> even though we may get a good monetary reward for it, you know, it's like a piece of my dad. so, you know, as i see things that aren't there that were there, hey, maybe a tear comes to my eye, and then i'll just -- you know, "good old dad -- i wonder what he's thinking." he would have never sold. >> earl describes his father, robert, as especially proud to own the map that mexican general santa ana used in 1835 at the battle of zacatecas. but in the 1960s, business was slow, and robert was forced to sell it. but every time robert looked at the bare spot on the wall where the map had hung, he wished he had it back. it took him years and quite a few dollars, but robert davis restored that map to its place on his wall. i'm jamie colby for "strange inheritance." thank you so much for watching. and remember -- you can't take it with you. do you have a "strange inheritance" story you'd like to share with us?
we'd love to hear it. send me an e-mail or go to our website -- strangeinheritance.com ♪ >> at the edge of death valley... >> it's weird and unusual and unique. >> ...a man puts a dusty weigh station on the map. but the town and his legacy fall on hard times. >> i was hearing from the residents that it was an eyesore. >> has he left his family a money pit... >> we want you to keep this in the family at all costs. >> ...or a monument? >> sometimes in life, we don't appreciate things until they're gone. [ door creaks ] [ wind howls ] [ thunder rumbles ] [ bird caws ] ♪ [ horn honks ] >> i'm jamie colby, and today i'm driving through the
mojave desert on my way to the tiny town of baker, california. it's halfway between los angeles and las vegas. just a tiny dot on the map -- 800 people. it embodies the weirdness of both those cities, and its largest attraction, definitely its tallest, has become one family's rather strange inheritance. >> my name is larae harguess, and my father, willis herron, set out to build the world's tallest thermometer. >> hi. i'm jamie. >> hi, jamie. i'm larae. nice to meet you. >> it's big. >> it is the world's tallest thermometer. >> well, if someone figured this roadside attraction would get you to stop and gawk, it sure as heck worked on me. >> hi. how are you, janice? i'm jamie. >> hi. nice to meet you, jamie. >> today, larae and her sister, janice neisess, run a gift shop in the shadow of the tower. they sell thermometer t-shirts,
thermometer hot sauce, even thermometer thermometers. yes, this really is the world's tallest thermometer. and it would be strange enough just to inherit a 130-foot thermometer in the middle of the desert, but what's as remarkable is the mission that larae and her family took on after her father died in 2007. >> you're sure? >> i got to get a closer look. i tell larae's husband, bill, i'm ready for a challenge. i've been training to climb to the top. i'm going in. >> okay. >> why did he say it that way? >> i just bombed it this morning for the spiders. >> spiders. i'm a girl of nature. >> black widows. >> they're little spiders. >> black widow spiders. >> yeah. >> i think you'd better close it up. >> they're small. >> even this host has to draw the line at black widow spiders.
the story of this strange inheritance begins with a young man who falls in love with the california desert. in the early 1950s, after service in the air force and college, willis herron heads west from his home in kentucky to join his father in barstow, california, where his dad has become a restaurateur. >> he and his father had a couple restaurants in barstow, and he was successful. my dad was very personable. >> successful enough that a local businessman offers to partner with young willis on an all-night diner in baker, 60 miles up the road. you may think a place known as the gateway to death valley is an unlikely spot for an eatery, but willis sees it differently. >> he knew that people would need to stop between los angeles and las vegas. >> at a time when few cars have air-conditioning, baker is a perfectly located oasis,
a spot for gamblers to cool off from the desert heat. pretty soon, willis' burger joint, called bun boy, is a landmark. 24 hours a day, seven days a week, winners drive in to celebrate, and losers drown their sorrows in...strawberries? >> fresh strawberry pie -- that was what it was known for. it was definitely kind of an americana diner -- the big breakfasts but also, you know, the burgers, the specialty sandwiches and things like that. >> in 1971, willis falls in love with barbara sturm, who comes with a house full of daughters -- larae, janice and terri -- just the kind of work force you need for a family restaurant. >> we all started as bussers, and we did dishwashing, and we did waitressing. >> this is the menu, right, of bun boy? the original. the burger was $3.95, and it came with coleslaw, french fries, or potato salad. that's a steal of a deal! >> and a smiling waitress.
[ laughs ] >> willis will eventually buy out his partner and become the biggest fish in the town's very small pond. >> we had three restaurants, two motels, two gas stations, a grocery store, pretty much within a block. >> baker booms. in the late '70s, willis buys a nice house in silver lake, a desert community 75 miles away. but soon business in baker sputters. cars are all air-conditioned. gamblers can drive straight through and arrive in vegas cool and comfortable. willis needs a gimmick, something to grab their eye and their wallet. he gets his inspiration in an unlikely spot -- international falls, minnesota. >> they had the world's tallest thermometer, and it was 22 feet high. and so i think he saw that
and the wheels started spinning. >> 22 feet? pshaw. his thermometer will mark the highest temperature, 134 degrees, ever recorded in death valley. it will soar as high as baker is hot. >> i know that my mom recalls saying, "have you lost your mind?" [ laughs ] "134 feet?" my dad looked at her with those blue eyes and said, "oh, honey, come on. this will be fun." ♪ >> in 1990, willis cuts a deal with yesco, a las vegas company that builds and finances those big, eye-catching signs. >> if you asked my mom, she would think that he was a little crazy to spend $750,000 to build a thermometer. >> $750,000? >> yes. yes. >> a little crazy?
that may be putting it mildly. willis plunks down $150,000. yesco does a lease deal to finance the other $600,000. by the fall of 1991, construction is wrapping up. despite the expense, the challenges, and the questions about his sanity, willis pops for a lighting ceremony. he bills it "the great turn-on." >> the invitations had gone out. thanksgiving day, he's out playing golf with his grandson. and he comes home, and my mom says, "honey, sit down. i have something to tell you." >> that's next. >> but first, our "strange inheritance" quiz question. what's the most visited tourist attraction in the united states? is it times square, walt disney world, or the las vegas strip? the answer in a moment. dear predictable, there's no other way to say this. it's over.
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♪ >> so, what is the most visited tourist attraction in the united states? the answer is "a," new york's times square. nearly 42 million people visit annually. >> november 28th, 1991, near death valley, california. at the time, restaurant owner willis herron is just weeks away from the grand opening of his monumental roadside attraction, a 134-foot thermometer. but suddenly, a freak storm
gathers over the mojave desert. >> thanksgiving day, we got a devastating phone call that the wind had come through here and actually blown the thermometer over. >> oh, no. was anyone hurt? >> nobody was hurt or killed. >> herron's dream for restoring the economy of the tiny town of baker appears crushed. it's a bitter lesson in the power of nature, one that might have defeated a lesser man, but not willis herron. >> it was insured, so he said, "put it back up." >> to keep it from having that problem again, we filled that center pipe with cement. >> 226 tons of cement, to be exact. in october 1992, willis herron flips the switch, and the world's tallest thermometer lights up. >> it flashes, and it's there. you could hear my mom crying in the background, going, "oh, thank god."
>> so you were only 2 years old when it was built? >> yeah. it's funny. there's all these cute pictures of us as kids. >> to his grandson dan neisess, this towering monument establishes willis as a legendary figure, a small-town tycoon. >> i'm sure that the amount of money it took to put up the thermometer was paid back 10 times. >> willis' brainstorm helps make him a rich man. >> it brought business to baker and people visiting and stopping and seeing it as kind of this unusual landmark in the middle of the desert. >> willis also still owns two restaurants -- his flagship bun boy and a coffee shop -- plus two motels, four gas stations and a country store. he and his wife, barbara, are practically lord and lady of baker. >> anytime anybody ever needed anything in the family, it was kind of like the understanding that they'd go talk to my grandfather, and he'd help you out.
>> but willis knows the good times can't roll forever. >> in 2000, his health was declining. he was 75 years old. he knew it was time to just sell it all. my mom actually didn't want him to sell the thermometer, but he didn't want her to have to worry about anything, finances or anything. >> so he puts it all on the market -- the motels, restaurants, gas stations, and the world's tallest thermometer. he finds a buyer who wants it all and will assume the lease on his signature attraction. willis takes back mortgages on the thermometer property and his other businesses. he's expecting a nice income stream well into the future. for 18 months, the new owner makes regular payments, and willis enjoys his retirement. but then things get complicated. the new owner is struggling. he wants out. so in 2006,
to protect his investments, willis finds another buyer. but the new owner needs a bank loan and won't get it unless willis puts up the thermometer property as collateral. if the loan is not paid off, the bank can take it. then, in july 2007, willis herron dies at the age of 82. >> little did he know that the economic downturn would hit in 2009, 2010. >> selling continuing after dropping 1,000 points over the last week. >> so that dream of his that mom wouldn't have to worry about anything changed quickly when people didn't pay the bills. >> as the restaurant business fails, the new owner cuts back on maintenance of the thermometer. then he stops making payments on the lease. soon the spire that willis erected to draw people off the highway advertises only baker's economic distress. >> it had been vandalized.
i was hearing from the residents out there that it was an eyesore because it wasn't working. >> some people even wanted it torn down. >> the herron family is shocked. >> my mom saw it a couple years ago, and she was devastated. >> tell me about that day. >> there was a couple standing in front of it taking their picture, and she stomped right over to them and started apologizing profusely for the way that the thermometer looked. and she vowed on that day to have it completely restored and brought back to its glory. >> barbara has inherited only a mortgage on the property. that's hardly enough to make good on her vow. so won't she be better off cutting her losses? >> sometimes in life, we don't appreciate things until they're gone. >> that's next. >> here's another quiz question for you. what is america's oldest roadside attraction? a six-story-tall elephant, a 10-ton ball of twine, or a
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>> so, what is america's oldest roadside attraction? the answer is "a." lucy the elephant has been stopping traffic in margate, new jersey, since 1881. constructed of wood, she is 65 feet high and weighs in at 90 tons. >> tell me about the motels, dan. >> well, my grandpa owned a lot of motels here in baker. it was kind of a big business back then. >> dan neisess is reminiscing about his grandfather willis herron's small-town business empire here in baker, california.
before his death in 2007, willis thought he'd unloaded it all, including his beloved roadside attraction, the world's tallest thermometer. a few years later, however, the businesses are shuttered. willis' loans to the new owners are in default, and the thermometer is a wreck. some locals want to tear it down. dan is just one of the family members who rally behind his grandmother barbara's crusade to reclaim and restore it. >> it's a weird thing that probably doesn't make any sense to anybody, but it matters to some people. it matters to a lot of people, i guess -- more than we ever thought. >> barbara herron, who's in her 70s and has serious health problems, lives 90 miles away and is in no position to deal with the layers of deeds, mortgages, notes, and leases that her husband attached to the holdings he left her. her daughters jump in to help,
but larae is a school guidance counselor, and janice is a teacher. this business stuff ain't their bag. as i'm looking through all the pages of the transactions for your family to stay involved with the thermometer, i'm wondering how complicated is it now? what's the deal? >> we're not gonna win businesswomen of the year awards. >> on this transaction, no. >> you might not. >> no. >> the sisters know this -- if their mom wants to wrest back control of their strange inheritance, she'll have to fund a bail-out. >> yeah, she took it out of her savings to do this. >> in her 70s? >> mm-hmm. >> was that the right decision, janice? >> yes, it was. i think so. >> i got to wonder -- barbara herron wants to redeem a pile of bad debt on distressed properties, including that thermometer, in a town whose best days may be in the rearview mirror. >> but this was not done for business. this was done for the heart. and we wanted to bring back my dad's legacy. >> step one -- yesco,
the company that built and financed the thermometer, agrees to write off its debt and relinquish any claim on the structure. step two -- barbara forecloses on the thermometer property. step three -- she pays off the bank that still has a lien on it. finally, willis herron's pride and joy is back in his family, free and clear. step four may be the hardest part -- getting the darn thing working again. for that, it's back to yesco. >> we ended up having to put a new computer in it, new drivers, software, and new l.e.d. lighting. >> so how much did it cost to fix the thermometer? >> about $150,000. >> family members, most of whom live a couple of hours away, take rotating shifts in baker to protect the tower from vandals. >> here's where we've been the last four months. >> what? >> yeah. >> you said you lived on the
property. i thought there was a house. you've been living in this? >> this is it. >> willis' grandson, dan, a recent law-school graduate, takes a break from job hunting to help set up the gift shop. >> i painted everything, and i fixed the drywall, and... i don't know. all kinds of stuff. >> family members don't get paid. profits from the shop barely cover the electric bill for the thermometer. nevertheless, barbara has shelled out more than $330,000 to get the thermometer back and get it working. ♪ the last big question -- if she rebuilds it, will they come? that's next. [ crickets chirping ] [ light music playing ] you've wished upon it all year, and now it's finally here.
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>> it's october 2014. and we do take cash. we're taking some cash. here in baker, california, even i've been caught up in the excitement... we have these heat- and chill- activated world's tallest thermometer cups. they make great stocking stuffers. >> okay. >> ...as willis herron's family celebrates their strange and hard-won inheritance. despite her serious health problems, willis' widow, barbara, comes to baker in style. >> here's my baby girl. >> today is the rededication of the world's tallest thermometer, decades after it first flashed across the mojave desert. ♪ >> thank you. >> over 40 years ago, willis herron, he had a dream. and my mom kept her promise, and she spent her savings to repair the thermometer and get it back into its glory,
where it should be. >> dedicated on this saturday, october 11th, 2014, to willis and barbara herron, original owners and founders of the world's tallest thermometer. [ cheers and applause ] >> i watched your face, and your smile said everything. >> yes. i am very proud. i've got three girls, and i'm very proud of all of them. they've done a very good job. >> and they're making sure their kids understand the importance of this monument to the memory of the man they loved. >> hey, you. we said, "remember this day. remember that this is as much your family. we're gonna be gone one day, and we want you to keep this in the family at all costs. it needs to stay in the family." >> it feels like giving back to my grandfather,
who had been so generous to all of us all our lives, you know, and to be able to say thank you. >> no doubt -- from bun boy to motels to that crazy thermometer, willis herron of baker was a classic american success story. but there's one big chance he missed. back in the early 1950s, he ran into a fellow kentuckian at a restaurant convention, a nicely dressed fella named harland sanders. yeah, colonel harland sanders, who wanted to let willis in on the ground floor of his own new enterprise, kentucky fried chicken. but willis turned the colonel down. "fried chicken?" he said. "nah, that'll never catch on." willis always told that story with a hearty laugh. i'm jamie colby for "strange inheritance," and remember -- you can't take it with you. do you have a strange inheritance story you'd like to
share with us? we'd love to hear it. send me an e-mail or go to our website -- strangeinheritance.com. >> i'm bob massi. for 32 years, i've been practicing law and living in las vegas. i help people with all sorts of real-estate problems, from trying to save their homes to closing major deals. eight years ago, 6,000 people a month moved here, looking for employment and affordable homes. little did anyone know that we would become ground zero for the american real-estate crisis. now, it's a different story. the american dream is back. we're gonna meet real people who faced the same problems as millions across america, and we'll dive deep into a city on the rebound because las vegas was a microcosm of america, and now vegas is back. [ woman vocalizing ]